Marine Heroes #9 - Kenneth L. Reusser
Hometown: Cloverdale, Oregon
Captain Kenneth L. Reusser and his wingman Robert R. Klingman were flying their stripped-down F4U-4 Corsairs on a routine mission. It was May 10, 1945, near Okinawa, and the American fleet was preparing to invade Japan.
Their special fighter planes were customized for a speedy ascent above the clouds. Suddenly, Capt. Reusser spotted a Japanese Kawasaki “Dragon Killer,” an observation plane, taking pictures of America’s invasion fleet. Reusser realized that he must destroy that plane before it can report on American positions.
Reusser and Klingman climbed to 40,000 feet, nearly double the optimal altitude. They chased the Dragon Killer for over 150 miles before they can get close enough to fire their machine guns. The enemy dropped to 38,000 feet. It’s hit, but still flying. Reusser closed in for the kill… the cold air had jammed his guns!
His fuel was running low and he made a quick decision. He pushed the Corsair closer and closer to the Dragon Killer. Using his Corsair’s giant propeller, Reusser chewed away the tail of the enemy spy plane. His wingman followed his lead. The Dragon Killer was sent into the Pacific Ocean with its precious cargo of film.
That might have been the highlight of any Marine aviator’s career, but not for Kenneth Reusser. He was the only veteran to fly over 259 combat missions in three wars: World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. He was shot down five times, at least once in each war. He remained one of the most decorated pilots in the history of the Marine Corps.
Colonel Reusser retired after 28 years, with two Navy Crosses for valor plus five Purple Hearts for injuries in battle, and 42 other decorations. He lived with his wife near Portland, Oregon until 2009.
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